The Final Steps Are Just the Beginning

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For the rest of the October 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here.

[Editors' Note: This is the conclusion of a three-part series. The first piece appeared in the April 2009 issue of CRM, and the second piece appeared in the August 2009 issue.]

In parts one and two — “First Steps Are Always Critical,” April 2009; “The Next Steps Matter, Too,” August 2009 — we examined Front Runner, a pseudonymous brand with a consumer media initiative. The first of its four social media communities recently went live, and while it’s too early to provide concrete results, below are some key observations.

  • Secure community sponsorship at the highest levels: The social media team at Front Runner knew early on that it needed to have all relevant stakeholders involved in the community launch, and sponsorship from the CEO or one of the CEO’s direct reports. Here’s why they were right: At one point, Front Runner wasn’t getting sufficient support from its technology staff. Fortunately, the CEO had signed up as community sponsor, and quickly secured the technology staff’s immediate participation. In addition, weekly project calls attended by key stakeholders proved the best way to identify potential issues and keep things on track.
  • Seriously consider the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model: You may remember that Front Runner opted to go with an off-site, SaaS-based social media platform vendor. This vendor has performed with excellence. By using an outside platform vendor, Front Runner has removed potential internal technical headaches, thereby maintaining its own focus on securing active community participation.
  • Implement social media best practices: Front Runner built its community around blogs, ratings, and polls.

    One best practice involves thinking of community content as a newspaper, with your bloggers as columnists; Front Runner also plotted two or three months of a blog editorial calendar. The writing style should engage community members and solicit feedback; to keep the community fun and active, bloggers are encouraged to utilize interviews, pictures, and interactive elements in their posts.

    You want three to five new posts per week across your community, which requires eight to 10 reliable bloggers (drawn from internal as well as external sources). Regular meetings helped build an esprit de corps and set a tone for blogposts.

    Front Runner also found that a contest — with cash prizes — was an excellent way to stimulate initial community interest: In the first week alone, more than 500 people signed up.

  • Tightly link PR coverage and community launch: Front Runner placed a lot of emphasis on attracting PR early on and this focus has already paid off. Being an early adopter in social media certainly has its benefits: Because it’s a hot topic, the press is keen to cover successful communities. In one city, all four television stations covered the Front Runner launch, which significantly boosted visitors to the community site.

Measure your social media benefits: Front Runner has locked on four community metrics:

  • Customer Retention — As a customer-centric organization, Front Runner wants customers to feel they’re truly part of a club. The company has opened a two-way dialogue, and customers are now communicating directly with Front Runner as well as with each other. Customers already have confirmed their willingness to share feedback, complaints, comments, suggestions, etc., on a variety of topics. The community reinforces the “club” concept and serves as an added benefit to the overall customer experience.
  • Customer Insight — The community also gathers customers’ positive and negative comments, providing a cost-effective substitute for focus groups and surveys.
  • Innovation — The community provides a means to introduce products and concepts, and to solicit immediate feedback, but Front Runner is also encouraging members to suggest new products and services.
  • Sales — Front Runner is comparing sales to community members against those to other customers. Enthusiastic community members are rewarded for persuading others to transact with Front Runner.

This three-part series has been a look at the implementation of a social media community from its inception. Front Runner’s early efforts have already helped to deepen its customer reach — a reassuring sign, in the face of all the hype surrounding social media and social CRM, that we’re on the right track. But we’ve only just begun.

Barton Goldenberg (bgoldenberg@ismguide.com) is president and founder of ISM, Inc., a Bethesda, Md.–based strategic consulting organization that since 1985 has specialized in CRM, contact centers, and the Digital Client. He is the publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation and author of CRM in Real Time: Empowering Customer Relationships (Information Today, Inc., 2008).

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